White House Tells Agencies to Plan for Bringing Federal Employees Back to In-Office Work

A new memo instructs federal agencies to begin the process of returning many federal employees to work in offices as the pandemic winds down.

A new memo from the White House Office of Management and Budget issued today instructs federal agencies to begin preparations to bring federal employees back to work in the office in greater numbers.

Now that the worst of the pandemic is over, the memo says that “…the Administration is taking prudent steps to plan for an effective, orderly, and safe increased return of Federal employees and contractors to the physical workplace (‘reentry’).”

As part of this process, agencies have been instructed to complete their reentry plans by July 19, 2021.

The purpose of these plans is to determine “how and when to return an increased number of employees and contractors, as appropriate, in-person to the Federal workplace—as well as their intended post-reentry personnel policies and work environment.”

The plans must contain two main components:

  • A phased plan for reentry and post-reentry
  • An update of the agency’s COVID-19 workplace safety plan

The memo lifts a cap that was previously in place that limits the number of people in federal workplaces to 25% of regular capacity.

Agencies will need to work with the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force to update their COVID-19 workplace safety plans so that they align with the latest CDC guidelines, such as the CDC’s recent guidance regarding fully vaccinated individuals no longer needing to wear masks or maintain physical distance when in federal buildings.

OMB’s memo reiterated again the position of the Task Force that requiring federal employees to get vaccinated in order to work in their agency offices “should generally not be a pre- condition for employees or contractors at agencies to work in-person in Federal buildings, on Federal lands, and in other settings as required by their job duties.”

Among other things, agency post-reentry plans should satisfy any collective bargaining obligations and regularly solicit feedback from agency leadership, supervisors, employees when introducing and implementing new personnel policies.

American Federation of Government Employees national president Everett Kelley said in a statement about the OMB directive, “We’re happy to see that the administration is not rushing or imposing any kind of uniform schedule but rather allowing agencies time to work with us for a safe re-entry that incorporates the lessons learned about both the advantages and disadvantages of telework.”

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.